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William Morris at the V&A

Recently we took a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to see the Dior exhibition (follow this link to read more, https://www.thats-mine.co.uk/dior-designer-of-dreams/ ), but we couldn’t resist having a quick peek at the galleries and other exhibitions they have there in the main part of the museum. The V&A has some amazing collections, including a collection showing objects made in Britain and Europe between 1500 and 1900, many of which were developed by William Morris. The collections hold a huge amount of his work – not only wallpapers and textiles but also carpets, embroideries, tapestries, tiles and book designs. We decided to take some time to highlight his great designs.

William Morris was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. He was a key figure in the Arts & Crafts Movement, Morris encouraged a principle of handmade production that didn’t chime with the Victorian era’s attention on industrial advancement.

In 1861, Morris founded the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co decorative arts firm with Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Webb, and others, which became highly fashionable and much in demand. The firm deeply influenced interior decoration throughout the Victorian period, with Morris designing tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained-glass windows. In 1875, he assumed total control of the company, which was renamed Morris & Co.

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’

William Morris

Morris is recognised as one of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain. He was best known in his lifetime as a poet, although he subsequently became better known for his designs. The William Morris Society founded in 1955 is dedicated to his legacy, while multiple biographies and studies of his work have been published.

During his lifetime, Morris produced items in a range of crafts, mainly those to do with furnishing, including over 600 designs for wall-paper, textiles, and embroideries, over 150 for stained glass windows, three typefaces, and around 650 borders and ornamentations.

Morris & Co.’s designs were fashionable and popular among Britain’s upper and middle-classes, with biographer Fiona MacCarthy stating that they had become “the safe choice of the intellectual classes, an exercise in political correctitude.” Over the next decade he continued to design at an impressive rate, adding at least 32 printed fabrics, 23 woven fabrics and 21 wallpapers – as well as more designs for carpets and rugs, embroidery and tapestry – to the company’s range of goods. All of these were sold in the shop that Morris opened on Oxford Street in 1877, in a fashionable space that offered a new kind of ‘all under one roof’ retail experience.

To learn more about William Morris and his designs, follow these links:

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-william-morris

https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/william-morris#objects

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris

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